Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gratitude Saves

Twenty Eighth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Found this little treasure on the net. It proposes to answer the needling question: Why only one leper returned to give thanks? The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
(Charles L. Brown, Content the Newsletter Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3)

To be fair, all ten lepers stepped out in faith and cried out to Jesus for help; they were obedient to Jesus’ counsel to show themselves to the priests, and as a consequence they were healed of their disease. Yet of the ten men that were healed, only one distinguished himself – he was the only one who returned to Jesus to praise him and thank him for what he did. And to add irony to this story, this person was a Samaritan, despised by the Jews. The story illustrates two points. The first point is one which our present Pope is painstakingly trying to make in his homilies, in his interviews, in his catecheses - Pope Francis wants to present to the world a tender, loving and compassionate God who cast His nets wide – He extends His grace to all people. Jesus' love and mercy, his healing touch extends to both Jews and Samaritans alike, the insider and the outcast, believers and unbelievers, to both the grateful and the ungrateful. No one is excluded from the love of God.
But the gospel pays greater attention to the second point - a lesson in gratitude as displayed by the former Samaritan leper.
When we were little children, learning our manners, one of the first habits our parents drilled into our heads was the habit of saying “please” and “thank you.” And then there were the constant reminders by the adults, “Did you say thank you?” which taught you an additional lesson – it’s not enough to whisper a silent prayer of thanksgiving, gratitude has to be audible and visible. Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. It’s strange how we lose sight of these important habits when we grow old.

Gratitude is not about "looking at the bright side" or denying the realities of life. It’s not saying, ‘Thank God, it could be worse!’ Gratitude goes much deeper than that. The leper’s action reveals the heart of gratitude – it is treasuring Christ more greatly and savouring his power more sweetly, the power which heals, which liberates and finally, the power which saves. In the first reading, in the story of the foreign general Naaman, we recognise that gratitude has the power to heal. But this is only part of the mystery of God’s grace. In the second reading, St Paul reminds us that gratitude also liberates. But it is in the gospel that we discover climatic apex of this godly virtue – gratitude saves.

Notice that although the nine lepers were ‘cleansed’, only one earned the accolade of being ‘saved.’ Jesus tells him at the end of the story, “Your faith has saved you.” In Luke’s context, he is making a polemical point: Only the foreigner is grateful for the grace received and that is his salvation. The others think solely of the benefits received, physical healing and social acceptance; but neglected to pursue the path of well-ness right to its very end – salvation. This is certainly descriptive of most of us who search for a cure to our disease, longevity to life, a solution to life’s problems; but ultimately lose sight of the greatest gift of all, the reason for the Father having to send his Son – our salvation

No work of God's is more worthy of gratitude than salvation. But it often doesn’t feel that way, right? Selective forgetfulness is to be blamed for this. We have forgotten that before coming to know Christ, each of us lived in a self-imposed prison of guilt, spiritual blindness and sin. But Christ not only rescued us from the power and penalty of our sins, He also lifted us to the realm of grace. He delivered us from punishment and brought glory. He defeated death and won for us eternal life. He took away the threat of hell and gave us the hope of heaven. Gratitude is therefore keenly linked with memory – memory of the grace of salvation we have received from God and who continues to complete and perfect the work which He has begun in us. Gratitude should make us sing of salvation, talk of salvation. Thanking God for saving us should be the unceasing occupation of our lips.

When we are giving thanks always for all things to God the Father, then we recognise his power and his glory. And when we recognise the power and the glory of God, we can understand our own position as His servants. We begin to approach the menial tasks that are all a part of our jobs and responsibilities with a sense of contentment rather than a sense of obligation. Imagine a Church or a parish that follows the example of grateful former leper. Imagine serving in a culture of gratitude—not a culture of obligation, or guilt, or arrogance, or exclusion, or pride.

Gratitude isn't something that should pass from our minds with the passing of a season. It's an attitude, a God-centred response to circumstances that should pervade every season of our lives. Perhaps the most difficult time to be thankful is when we're in the midst of a setback, a challenge, or a trial. When the storm comes, giving thanks is rarely our first reaction. Being thankful for adversity is never easy, but it is always right. Our faith reminds us that the difficult times are the ones in which God seems to be most at work in our lives, strengthening our weak spots, comforting our hurts, and drawing us to greater dependence. A person cannot be complaining and thankful at the same time, nor can they worry about money or health or anything while being thankful. With gratitude comes joy, hope, peace and love.

The story of the ten lepers is a wonderful story of the infinite grace and mercy of our Lord and Saviour, one who gives us good gifts, even if we have ungrateful hearts. It is also a story which challenges us to place our trust in God, to follow his commands, and to see the wonderful rewards this brings us. In the few moments we will come to the table of Christ together to celebrate the Eucharist. The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word, “eucharistia,” (εχαριστία) meaning to give thanks (for the good graces we have received).  And so we give thanks not just because God has healed us, he has liberated us from sin, fear and anxiety. We give thanks because of Sacrifice of the Cross re-enacted at every Eucharist has saved us and continues to make us whole – completing, bringing together and finishing the grand work of salvation which God has begun us. And I don’t know about you, but the prospect of being made whole, being healed, being liberated and being saved is enough to make me turn around, rush back again to Jesus, and say thank you, Jesus.  Thank you so much.

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